Thursday, December 30, 2010

Observations From the Christmas Road - Part 1

My family just got back from a ten-day road trip. Altogether we spent about 38 hours driving. Actually, the boys spent about 30 of those hours asleep, so it was pretty easy for them. That is a lot of concentrated time on the road. I know that many people who drive for a living see far more highway than that in ten days, but it seemed like a lot to me.

I took my little writer’s notebook with me and recorded a lot of random stuff I saw and heard (just like my Childish Adult friend Chris). There are no big revelations or insights here. Just the flotsam and jetsam of road trips. [Ever notice that you hardly ever see flotsam without its pal jetsam? Those two are like the Laurel and Hardy of the seldom used vocabulary world.]

Here is a little nugget from a Cracker Barrel somewhere in NC. Heidi has the impression that Cracker Barrel has the cleanest bathrooms on the road. We never ate a single thing there on this road trip, but I’ll bet we stopped at a CB at least a half a dozen times. I did buy a cup of coffee one time.

I finished my business before Heidi, and I was wandering in the retail area. I have to say I love looking around at that stuff. There are the old TV sitcoms on DVD, musical instruments that almost really play, CD collections of country singers and books with old timey wit and wisdom. My favorites are the toys. I had some of those very same toys when I was a kid. You know, like Slinkeys and jacks and Barrel of Monkeys. The really timeless stuff.

Well there is this little kid, maybe six, playing with a toy gun. It is a musket, the kind that you can cock. It gives a really satisfying click when you pull back the hammer and if you had those little round stick on caps it would make a loud bang and let out a cloud of smoke just like a real gun. I know. I used to have one just like it. I got it for Christmas once.

I was tempted to tell the kid about the little sticker caps (which you can probably only get at CB) when I hear his mom tell him to, “Put that thing down and get over here before you break it!” She is a large woman with dyed black hair and a lot of makeup. It looked like she was getting ready for a stage production.

The little guy pulls the trigger, I mean come on – he had already cocked it. It would be like leaving it there on the shelf loaded. Every boy knows you just can’t do that. “I said get over here. NOW!” shrieks Mom. He flinches at the sound of her too loud words. He puts it back on the shelf and walks over to her.

“I’m telling Santa on you. I said to put it down.”

“No, Mama. Please don’t tell Santa!” he cries in desperation.

“It’s too late. You didn’t put that toy up when I told you to. I’m telling Santa.” She walks away like it’s a done deal. Santa is going to know and that’s that.

“Mama! I’m sorry. Please don’t tell Santa on me!”

Heidi came out at that point and I told her to look at those two. I told her the story when we were walking out of the store. I felt like tattling on that mama. No, I know it wasn’t in the Christmas spirit, but I felt like giving her the hardest noogie ever, one that would mess up her perfectly sprayed hair and leave a pink mark on her scalp for a long time. I felt like telling Santa on HER.

Evil Santa

I mean, really. The kid did what his mom told him to. Almost immediately. Mom was obviously just looking for a reason to tell Santa, looking for a reason to push his Santa button. What kind of relationship do those two have? Is it all about power? And what kind of way is that to use the Santa thing? Is Santa some all-knowing being that only grown-ups can talk to when they want to punish or threaten their kids? Is Santa some kind of omniscient being who holds all the cards, doles out presents or holds them back in order to punish the unworthy ones who don't do exactly what their mamas say within one second of the command? What is she going to do when he finds out that Santa isn’t real? Is it the same for every holiday season? Is she going to tell the Easter Bunny if he doesn’t jump to at every command in the spring? Is she going to tell the Leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day?

I mean it’s Santa, right? Good old Santa.

More later.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh, Christmas Tree

By our kids’ standards, Heidi and I are pretty square when it comes to Christmas. It has never been clearer that last night. We were going out to see some cool Christmas lights, come back home for a nice dinner, put on some Christmas music, have a fire in the fireplace then exchange gifts.


Now Devin and Colin are 18 and 17. Lights for them at Christmas time are no big deal. Really, they couldn’t care less. This was for Mom. So we got into the car and drove across the dam, turned right on Old Broad River Road and the traffic was backed up for at least a mile before the entrance to the park. The lights didn’t mean much to me either, frankly, but I was game since this was something Heidi really wanted to do. Before we were in that stop and go traffic for 5 minutes, the guys were complaining.

Image Ref: 90-04-72 - Coal Fire at Christmas, Viewed 4143 times

At first it was just a well-placed sigh as we inched along. Then it became, “Why exactly are we doing this?” Then, “Let’s go. This is going to take forever!” It took a complicated Y-turn to get out of there, but we did turn back and had a great evening – minus the lights at the park. Music, dinner, gifts, etc. Heidi and I dozed off as Colin played a new video game and Devin went out to hang with friends after the family festivities.

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Image Ref: 90-03-69 - Christmas Decorations, Viewed 5335 times

One of the things that makes our Christmas so fine is our Christmas tree. We almost always put it up the day after Thanksgiving and keep it up until the New Year. When the kids were little we always went out to a nearby Christmas tree farm and rode around in this little train/tractor/wagon thing listening to cheesy carols sung by the Chipmunks. Sometimes when they were young, we’d get out along the way around the farm and throw a football or just walk along and take pictures. Sometimes the boys would take a friend or two. Sometimes we’d stop and feed the goats, rabbits and deer they have in a kind of petting zoo. If it were just the boys and us, we’d ask strangers if they would take our family picture.

Image Ref: 90-03-34 - Christmas Decorations, Viewed 4300 times

Those old pictures are priceless. They mark our growth and change. Colin goes from a chubby cheeked little one to a stylishly longhaired adolescent, never wearing quite the right amount of clothes to keep him comfortable. Devin’s pictures range from a game little guy in a ball cap to having his arm around his girlfriend, his poses from silly and carefree to more serious and mature. And Heidi’s pictures over those same dozen years are just more beautiful as she ages. Now there is a touch of beautiful gray but that smile still shines.

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Then, after riding around that cool little farm, feeding and petting the animals, eating popcorn, drinking hot cider, watching the workers shake the loose needles from the trees they were selling and running them through the machine that twists them and ties them up with twine – we’d drive to Lowes and pick up a tree at about one half the cost. Picking the tree has also become a tradition of sorts. The boys and I would usually pick one out right away. But Heidi needs to take her time because it has to be just the right tree. So we would set our tree aside and keep pulling out others and turning them around for Heidi to preview. This one would have a bare spot in the branches, that one would have a weird top or wouldn’t come to a neat point the way a Christmas tree is supposed to. We would examine a LOT of trees before we found just the right one. Colin and Devin would fuss at Heidi for taking so long. The first one we picked out is just fine… Why do we have to look at so many?... Mom, you are such a perfectionist… Sometimes we would come back to the one we had picked out originally. But it is the process that is so important.

This is the first year we haven’t gone to the Christmas tree farm. And Devin wasn’t with us when we picked out the tree. He was out with some college friends and left it up to the three of us. There was still a little fussiness on Colin’s part about how long it took for Heidi to pick the tree. It is all part of the ritual.

This year Heidi and I were the ones to decorate the tree. When the boys were little they took great delight in that as well. They were always asking questions about the ornaments. Where did we get this one? Who gave us that? And Heidi always knew the answers. My mom and I got that one at an after Christmas sale. Our friend Janet gave us those the first year we moved to South Carolina. But this year we decorated it by ourselves, the boys being too busy and too grown to take part. And while decorating the tree doesn’t have the same magic it did when the boys were little, being with Heidi Mills for Christmas and performing the same rituals for all of these years feels so right.

When we were first young and in love (back in the 70’s) we had precious few ornaments. Most were hand-me-downs from family. I guess we bought a few but that wasn’t high on the priority list. Over the years we have acquired so many that even if we had a 15-foot tree we could never use them all. Many were gifts, and Heidi remembers something about most of them.

As I sit here and gaze at the tree I can see a little wooden guitar and a starfish painted red and green – both gifts from students from long ago. There is a yellow felt lion with a red yarn mane that was given to us by our first principal and very good friend back around 1979 or 80. There is a delicate clear glass orb filled with milkweed seeds with their fluffy parachutes still attached. It looks like magic. A good old teacher friend gave that one about 15 years ago. There are about a dozen clear, fragile twisted glass icicles Heidi got on her last trip to Minnesota to see her beloved grandparents before they passed away.

There are ornaments we have given each other over the years including some I made with the boys when they were really little. Cheesy cut out cardboard shapes they painted and glittered. Devin’s is signed but the e and n are backwards and Colin’s signature is letter-like marks. There is one that I cut out with a jigsaw and my mom painted to look like Pinocchio. I must have made that when I was about 10, over 40 years ago when my mom and brother Pat and I had an assembly line going for ornament making.

Baby’s First Christmas 1992 was given to us by Heidi’s parents for Dev’s first Christmas and the same with 1993 for Colin. Among my favorites are any with photographs of family members. My sister Ruthie made everyone very elaborate ornaments with pictures of my nieces and nephews – and plenty of my family. We also have some simple frame-type ornaments with pictures of the kids from the time they were little babies. Heidi just put together a couple with pictures of the boys from our time in Hawaii last summer. Years from now they will be treasures from “the old days” like the baby pictures are to us now.

My principal makes the faculty an ornament every year. She has for the last dozen years. Every year they are different. We have Santas and angels, fish and butterflies, musical instruments, a cross-stitched candle made by my mom. They are glass and wood, silver and gold, seashells and stone. Some look old fashioned and some are quite odd and would only be appreciated by us.

But as we mark the beginning of each Christmas season by pulling the box of ornaments out of the attic, I look so forward to decorating our special tree with this wonderful, beautiful woman. It is yet another way to mark our years together. From when we were not yet married, to our years childless, to the days when we had to place the delicate ornaments up high to keep them out of reach of our toddlers, to those priceless days when putting up the tree was a complete family affair, to these days when this particular tradition is ours alone again – the Christmas tree has been a tradition that celebrates our past and heralds the wonderful season ahead.

After returning home from our Christmas road trip to our respective families, taking the tree down and putting the ornaments back into the attic is sort of sad. But it also brings us one season closer to the day when we might share this tradition with grandkids. Don’t get me wrong. No rush. I’m just saying.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Christmas Song

I thought about writing two serious posts in a row, how that might make me seem dark. At the risk of being type cast, it felt right to put this one out there because of the season. Next time, something light. I promise.

I was going through my musical archives the other day, playing my new guitar. It’s actually the same one I’ve had for ten years or so, but the action was just lowered considerably, so it feels new to me. I was digging through a file of old originals and I found these lyrics. I don’t know if it is the same with you, but when I write something down I can remember better, not just the words – the feel and the images. So I played it and the feel came back to me…

A long time ago, when we first moved to SC from the frozen northlands, I wrote this little Christmas song. It was inspired by a Christmas family trip back to Indiana. We had exchanged gifts with Heidi’s family and decided to take a drive into downtown Indianapolis to see the Monument Circle in the middle of the city. They had the monument strung up with colored lights in this huge Christmas tree shape. It was pretty dazzling. I was wearing a long wool coat I had just gotten and we were all feeling pretty cozy and fat. Big old Christmas dinner behind us, (Heidi’s mom can really cook), fairly extravagant gifts already exchanged, midnight church ahead of us. All seemed right in the world.

But it was really cold that Christmas Eve. And windy. At or below zero. The kind of cold that we never get here. The kind of cold that hurts, then quickly numbs. It stung your nose to breath outside and in that kind of weather you didn’t stay out for long. But we were in my in-laws Buick all content and warm and happy, full of food and family. Ah, Christmas.

Then, as we were riding around the circle I saw a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart. She had to be homeless. She was puffy with shirts and sweaters and wore two or three ragged wool caps. Her hands and feet, I remember, were wrapped in rags. I could not see much of her face, but I remember almost feeling embarrassed by how rich I was at that moment. Maybe that isn’t the right way to put it, but it suddenly felt almost too decadent. She had her stuff in that shopping cart and was walking around the circle. I couldn’t see what was in her cart, but it had to be modest. More than likely, I had received more in Christmas presents than she owned.

Her shopping cart had Christmas decorations wired to it.

Plastic mistletoe and holly and poinsettias were strung across the front of that shopping cart. As she struggled along in that bitter cold, pushing her belongings through the frozen snow – her cart was decorated for Christmas. That’s it. Just a ten-second image and then we were around the circle and on our way. It left me with a feeling that I will never forget.

Anyway, I wrote this sad little song. It’s fiction, but based on the image of this cold woman on that long ago Christmas Eve.

Some tinsel and some mistletoe on her shopcart

The holiday spirit touches her as well

It’s Christmas, and she’s homeless and alone

But the season still reaches her soul

Visions of her friends and family from the past

Flood through the gates this time of year

She’s touched many, many hearts in her time

She’s laughed through showers of tears.


How does she make it through?

What can she be thinking?

Where does she go for love?

And how does she stop from sinking?

So now she expects the sideways glances

The stares that children often give

It’s all just a part of her life

The life that now she has to live


How does she make it through?

What can she be thinking?

Where does she go for love?

And how does she stop from sinking?

Her humble belongings there – by the street

In the cart for all to see

No way they can show her spirit

No way they can show her dignity


Shelter for the night

Then back on the street

By the morning light

Maybe a day old roll

That she can take with her…


How does she make it through?

What can she be thinking?

Where does she go for love?

And how does she stop from sinking?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Dalmatian

This piece is a little long for a single post. You can always read it in segments. When I finished the final draft, I couldn't bring myself to divide it. The whole thing took place in 10 minutes or so. That's about real time as you read. I wrote this memoir in my classroom this semester while my second graders wrote their own.

The Dalmatian

It was October. Almost Halloween. The air had changed in our small southern town in the past week. It would still get warm again, but the changing leaves had finally signaled an end to the persistent, muggy, hot days. The last several evenings had actually been cool, a welcome relief. This mid October morning was foggy. It wasn’t the thick soupy fog that we sometimes experience in the fall, but the kind that settles over the freshly plowed fields and pours across the moonlit country roads, trailing cars travelling through it like a ghostly tail.

I loaded my two sleepyhead boys into the Toyota Camry, buckled them into the back seat and headed through the country to the highway that would carry us across town to school. Devin, our second grader, was groggy but cooperative as I helped him slip into his pants and shirt. I hoisted him up against my shoulder and carried him through the garage to the car in the driveway already warming up. After dressing kindergarten Colin and laying him gently in the backseat and buckling him in, I put a small pillow under each of their precious heads and covered them with small blankets made by my mom.

This was our new car, the only new car I’d ever had and, most likely, the only new car I would ever have. Silver, shiny, not a scratch on it. There were no milk stains from spilled sippy cups or crumbs from car snacks. This car still had that special new car smell, the smell of new fabric and freshly molded plastic. I knew it wouldn’t retain that smell for long but it would be fun while it lasted.

Once, when the kids were really little and the car was still quite new, Devin referred to our new commuter vehicle as the “Boymobile” and the name stuck for many years.

This October morning was not particularly memorable when we got into our regular routine. The boys were asleep, NPR was on the radio and I was getting my early morning dose of the news. Highway 378 was about five miles away from our rural home. It was busy and fast. The posted speed limit was fifty-five but most cars travelled faster than that. At the time, 378 was mainly a country drive. There were a few scattered homes and some small shops but very few neighborhoods and no strip malls. There was an auto body repair shop, a little gym, a mobile home area with about twenty homesteads, a little cement block bar called Rags to Richies, a used car lot, and a sawmill, which cut boards and beams from rough timber.

As I was tooling along on that mid October morning, I barely noticed these familiar sights. My mind was on the school day ahead, my sleeping boys in the buckled up back seat with their car pillows and blankets. I thought about pulling the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch out of the supply closet in my classroom and getting milk from the office fridge and making sure that they brushed their teeth before heading out to their own classrooms and their own day of school.

I had taken this drive for so many days that I was on autopilot – seeing the road, but not really seeing it, driving the speed limit but not being fully present. It was a morning like so many mornings, a day that began like so many days. Darkness, headlights, foggy mist, occasional streetlamps, intermittent windshield wipers slapping back and forth, Bob Edwards reading the news on the radio, snoozing little boys in the backseat. Just a morning like so many others.

Without warning, a dim silhouette moved across the road from my right. My instincts kicked in and I hit the brake pedal, swerving left into the divided highway’s turning lane. Then, as if caught in a camera flash – there it was, frozen in my headlights, a beautiful black and white dog. A Dalmatian. The light from my headlights reflected bright in its eyes. My own eyes wide, my fingers gripping tightly on the steering wheel, I pressed the brakes hard, already knowing that it was too late. The dog was too close. It ran straight into the path of my too fast car.

I heard and felt the impact as the right front corner of my car connected with the dog. There was a sickening crunching sound and a dull vibration I could feel as well as hear. That headlight immediately went out and the steering wheel shuddered as I swerved back into my lane.

My eyes searched the rear view mirror as I pulled right and drove into the parking lot of a small private gym called “Big Guys”. My wheels skidded loudly in the parking lot gravel. Throwing the shift lever into park, I looked into the back seat of the car to see Devin and Colin still asleep. The sound and vibration did not bother them in the least. I pushed in the flasher button on the dashboard.

There was a cool damp mist now as I got out of the car and looked onto the highway. I could see the dog’s form sprawled on the wet road. A man darted across to where the dog lay. He scooped it up and continued to the other side of the highway. Two men emerged from Big Guys gym. It was the size of a doublewide trailer. Both guys were large and very muscular and wore tight t-shirts. They were doublewides too.

“What happened?” said one. He had black hair and a really short haircut. It was the style my dad had back in the 60’s. We called it a flattop.

“I guess it was his dog,” I said. “It ran into the road.” I looked into their faces. I didn’t see blame. The other guy also had dark hair and a military haircut. It was short all over. They looked a lot alike. Brothers? They looked concerned.

They guy with the buzz cut said, “Didja hit it bad? We heard the brakes and a smack.”

“Yeah,” I said. We were about to cross the road. I was reluctant to leave the boys but at the same time I didn’t want to wake them. I didn’t know what we would see on the other side of the highway, but I was pretty sure that I didn’t want them to see. The three of us lined up to cross. I was glad they were coming with me.

Cars and truck flew by spraying water up from the road in trailing cloudy mist. Between the cars and trucks I could see the man, his big dog in his lap, his head bowed as though in prayer.

Finally there was a break in the traffic and the two big men and I ran across the road. The guy was sitting in the cindery dirt on the shoulder of the road. It was beginning to drizzle. As we got closer we could hear him moan. It wasn’t until we got close that I could hear the words he was crying out.

“My fault… so sorry… all my fault, Obie… so sorry…”

He was oblivious to our presence. He sat there, in the near dark, in the early morning drizzle, in his tears and in his pain. We crowded around him, off the highway but not by much. Each car and truck sprayed us with oily water from the rain-slicked road. And, while there were four of us there, this man was alone with his dying dog.

He had dark wavy hair and a red plaid shirt, blue jeans, leather work boots and thick horn rimmed glasses. Obie was across his lap, limp head dangling down. His coat was brilliant white with coal black spots. He looked beautiful. There was not a mark on him. He looked perfect. Except that his eyes were glazed over and blood trickled from his nostrils. His blood was black in the early morning darkness. The rain was misting over the man's glasses. “Obie,” he cried.

“Man, I am so sorry,” I said. “He was just there. It happened so fast. I couldn’t stop.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” He spoke softly. It was barely more than a whisper. I knelt down next to him. The body builders squatted down too. They were uncomfortable but they were not going back to the gym. Not yet. “I shouldn’t have let him off the leash.” He was crying. I couldn’t actually see his tears but I could hear them in his voice. “I never let him off the leash. He’s not much more than a puppy. He’s just a year old.” I wasn’t sure if he was talking to us or to himself. It didn’t matter.

“I’m so sorry,” I said again. I reached out to touch the dog’s head, to rub Obie behind his ears the way my big yellow dog liked.

“No,” he said, more insistently. It was my fault, not yours.” There was a pause. “What’s your name?” he asked.


“I’m sorry, Tim. This is the last thing you needed on your way to work.” I didn’t know how to answer. His dog was dying in his lap. I had hit it with my car.

“Dude,” said one of the Big Guys, “Do you want to get your dog to a vet? Maybe there is time to save him.” Cars and trucks flashed by carrying their passengers to their own busy workdays.

“It’s too late for that,” said the sad man. We looked at Obie. He was still breathing but it was weak and irregular. When there was a break in the traffic we could hear rattling form his chest, saw the blood running from his nose. It was definitely too late. We all knew it.

“What’s your name?” I asked him in return.

“Mark.” He began to cry again, his shoulders heaving. Mark dropped his head. Snot dripped from the end of his nose. He didn’t care. I think the two Big Guys from the gym cried. I know I did. We stayed like that for a long minute. It was a tender moment I’ll never forget. Sitting with strangers in the cold rain, at the edge of an early morning South Carolina highway. A dying dog. Speeding traffic. Sleeping boys. Tenderness for this sad stranger. Two tough body builders with big hearts. And tears. And rain. And pain.

It began to rain in earnest. A big tractor-trailer threw up an uncomfortable spray. The Big Guys looked at each other, then at me. Then all three us looked down at Obie, cradled in Mark’s lap. He drew in a deep breath and exhaled raggedly. It was his last. The blood that was streaming from his nose slowed to a drip. The temporary kinship we felt was broken when Obie’s breathing gave out.

“I am so sorry, Mark,” I said again.

“He was my best friend,” Mark moaned. “I know that sounds stupid. But it’s true.” We paused, waiting for him to make the next move. I had to get back to the car. It was unlikely that the boys would wake up. Once we were on our way they stayed asleep until I woke them up when we got to school. But it was possible they would stir since the car wasn’t moving. I didn’t want them to be afraid if they woke up and I wasn’t there.

“Let’s get you back, man,” said the guy with the buzz cut.

“Yeah,” Mark said. “I know.” I took hold of one of Mark’s arms. The guy with the flat top took the other. Mark rose slowly but he didn’t take his eyes off of the limp dog in his arms. Flattop put his hand on Mark’s shoulder, sort of leading him from behind. We led him across that highway, pausing in the now steady rain in the turning lane to wait for a break in the predawn rush hour traffic before hustling him over to the other side.

“Sorry about your dog, Mark” said the guy with the flat top. He squeezed his shoulder.

“Yeah, man. That’s tough. Real tough,” said his brother. They meant it too. I was glad that they were there at that time. I was grateful that they could reach out to this sad stranger.

I peeked into the car. The windows were steamed. Sure enough, Devin and Colin were sleeping peacefully. “Where do you stay, Mark?” I needed to assess the damage to my car and get back to work. I knew that one of the headlights was out but I hadn’t heard any rubbing against the tire or any unusual noises from the engine. More than likely the damage, outside of the headlight, was only cosmetic. I knew that we’d be a little later than usual getting into my classroom, but I felt like I needed to stick around for a few minutes. Mark seemed to be in shock.

“Hmm?” He was alone with his thoughts. He hadn’t heard my question.

“Where do you live, man? Can I give you a lift?”

“No, that’s OK. We live at Victorian Lakes. It’s just up the road.” Victorian Lakes was a very modest trailer park. No lake. Nothing Victorian. “Hey, I’m sorry about your car.”

“Don’t worry about it. Are you sure you’re OK? What are you gonna do?”

“What am I going to do?” he repeated. Then he paused. The rain was coming down pretty hard now. It dripped from his earlobes and nose. Droplets covered the lenses of his glasses. “I’m going to bury my dog.”

“Do you want a hand? I’ve got some time.”

“No, man. You get on. This is something I need to do myself.” And he turned back the way he and Obie had come. His head was down. His shoulders sagged under the weight of his beloved dog. His best friend. I watched him for a minute as he walked back to the trailer park. I was getting soaked and we still had a half hour drive to work.

Getting into the car I switched on the AC and turned the temperature up to clear the condensation from the windows. I could see him in the rear view mirror. He slowed down and stopped in front of the trailer park. He turned in a slow circle looking confused. Dazed. Then he sank to his knees. He was kneeling in a cone of rainy yellow light being cast by the streetlamp over his head. He tilted his head back, soaking wet, kneeling there in that yellow light. He cried. I couldn’t hear him. My windows were up. Rain drummed on my car and the sounds of traffic drowned out all other sounds. But that big tough man, dressed in his working clothes, held that dead, limp, beautiful dog in his arms and cried.

That was about ten years ago. I never ran into Mark at the store or the bank. I never saw him again. My boys are both young men. Our big yellow dog, just a puppy back then herself, is getting older now. Her muzzle is turning white. Mine too. And she is creaky when she wakes up in the morning. Me too. But I appreciate the love and companionship of a good dog. I am sad that Mark didn’t get the chance to spend all these years with Obie. Maybe he got another dog to fill that void. I hope so.